It’s often said that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. In fact, the origin of the word indicates its sacred value. During the Middle Ages, it was considered sacrilegious to eat before morning mass, so the first meal of the day was literally a breaking of the fast — hence the word “breakfast.”
Foods eaten in the morning vary greatly from country to country, ranging from enormous spreads of meats and cheese to simple pieces of bread. Click on the map below to learn more about the typical breakfast meal in nations around the world.
While many Americans might just grab a banana or a granola bar on the way to work, the traditional U.S. breakfast is much heartier. It often includes eggs, potatoes, bacon, sausage, pancakes and toast. Most people start their day with a cup of coffee (or three), and some people drink orange juice with their breakfast.
The traditional Mexican breakfast is pretty substantial. Chilaquiles, which are fried tortilla triangles topped with things like salsa, eggs, sour cream and avocado, are a popular breakfast food in Mexico. Another common dish is huevos rancheros, or fried eggs with corn tortillas, salsa, vegetables and beans.
Arepas are the classic food served in the morning in Venezuela. Although other countries have caught on to this trend, arepas originated with indigenous groups living in present-day Venezuela. These flat, maize flour patties can be served anytime, but a breakfast arepa might be stuffed with scrambled eggs or ham and cheese and cooked until it’s golden brown.
Heading across the Atlantic, we arrive in the United Kingdom. You’ve probably heard of the traditional English breakfast, which is well-known for being elaborate, filling and perhaps a little strange for unsuspecting tourists. The meal generally comprises eggs, bacon, sausage, baked beans, tomatoes, mushrooms, toast and black pudding (sausage made from pig’s blood, barley and oatmeal). And it’s served, of course, with a cup of tea.
A typical breakfast in France is relatively light and simple. The French will usually eat a piece of a baguette with jam, or a croissant and maybe some fresh fruit. Breakfast is often accompanied by a café au lait — coffee with steamed milk — and some juice.
Italians also tend to keep breakfast simple. The most important part is a strong cup of coffee, usually a caffé latte or cappuccino. Pair this with biscotti, cornetti (Italian version of the croissant) or one of a variety of other pastries.
Spain is another western European country that doesn’t make a big fuss about breakfast. The morning meal usually consists of a café con leche (coffee with steamed milk) and a sweet roll or a churro, a fried dough pastry often covered in cinnamon and sugar.
Continuing our journey East, the breakfast meals become more substantial. In Russia, a traditional breakfast may include blini (wheat flour pancakes), syrniki (fried curdled cheese pancakes), kasha (porridge), bread with butter or jam, caviar and a cup of tea.
One of the most impressive breakfast spreads can be found in Turkey. Here’s a sampling of what a traditional Turkish morning might offer: feta cheese, tomato, cucumber, olives, toast with cherry jam, spicy Turkish sausage and a cup of Turkish tea.
Breakfast in Israel is relatively healthy and reflects the cuisine in a number of Middle Eastern countries. Some of the foods you might see on the breakfast table are an Israeli salad (made with cucumbers and tomatoes), feta cheese, hummus, tahini, pita and olives. Another favorite dish is shakshuka, which is poached eggs in a vegetarian stew made with green peppers and tomatoes. Here’s a great recipe from TheMediterraneanDish.com.
Like in western Europe, breakfast in Kenya is fairly simple. The staple is a cup of chai tea, often accompanied by a piece of bread or fruit. In some parts of Kenya, a common breakfast food is mandazi — fried doughnuts made with coconut, cardamom and nutmeg, which are eaten across the Swahili Coast of East Africa.
In India, traditional breakfast foods vary by region. Northern Indians will often eat parathas, flatbread stuffed with vegetables, potatoes, cheese and eggs. In Southern India, flat pancakes called dosas are common, as well as idli, soft and fluffy steamed cakes made of rice and lentils.
China’s breakfast cuisine also varies based on which region you’re in. Congee, a white rice porridge, is served throughout the country, but its name changes depending on the area. Other popular breakfast dishes include mántou (steamed buns), dòuhuā (tofu pudding), dim sum (a variety of small plates of dumplings, buns and rice noodle rolls, usually served with tea) and youtiao (fried dough sticks).
A traditional Japanese breakfast involves a large spread of dishes. Typically, it consists of steamed rice, miso soup, a protein such as grilled fish, and various side dishes, like tsukemono (Japanese pickles), nori (dried, seasoned seaweed) and natto (fermented soybeans).
We end our world tour in the land down under. A typical Australian breakfast includes eggs, smoked bacon, baked beans and toast. What really makes it unique is the spread often served on the toast: vegemite, a thick black paste made from brewer’s yeast extract, malt extract, vegetable extract and B vitamins. While it’s very popular in Australia, many outsiders hate how it tastes.